Shining a light on new plays: Montclair Kimberley Academy in the city
'They Say We'll Have Some Fun'
By Robert Gelberg
Actors and crew from Montclair Kimberley Academy
Show presented by MirrorMaker Productions and The Montclair Kimberley Academy Fine and Performing Arts Department as part of Planet Connections
Saturday, June 24, 7:45 p.m., Thursday, June 29, 8:45 p.m.;
Saturday, July 1, noon
By GWEN OREL
An eager crowd gathers around the door of the Flamboyan theater, in the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center in New York City, on Friday, June 16, at 5 p.m. Some people are holding flowers. Others hold cameras.
Parents and friends and some random theatergoers have gathered to see the premiere of Robert Gelberg’s play “They Say We’ll Have Some Fun,” in the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity.
The play, which clocks in at about an hour, is about a group of teenagers at a summer camp. As the teens navigate the transition from CIT (counselor in training) to counselor, and tensely wait out the news about a camper in the infirmary, they also face the awkwardness of the transition from child to grownup.
The cast and crew are all students at Montclair Kimberley Academy, or recent grads: Liam Gerard, Caitlin Ladda, Patrick Napolitano, Casey Rae Borella, and Katie Kunka perform. Sydney Abraham is assistant director, Alex Golub is stage manager and Paul Korfhage is technical director. The performers all took Gelberg’s playwriting class.
The playwright himself is an MKA alumnus. He first became interested in theater at MKA, he said. “Nicole Hoppe was the person who got me interested in theater. I owe my career to her in a lot of ways.”
Hoppe, the fine and performing arts department chair at MKA’s upper school, offered Gelberg a job as MKA’s first playwright-in-residence.
A colleague had retired, Hoppe explained, and though MKA filled the position, they did not have a playwriting course. She had kept in touch with Gelberg, and called him when she knew he was back in the area. “I wanted to see if by chance he would want to come help his old alma mater out.
“We thought maybe four or five students would sign up. It ended up being 28.”
Some of the work the students wrote will be produced in MKA’s new amphitheater in September.
One responsibility of the playwright-in-residence position would be writing a play for teenage actors that would perform in a New York City festival.
And that’s just what Gelberg did.
“It was extremely exciting for me,” said Gelberg, talking fast and excitedly as he sat with the cast and crew at a Burger King after the premiere.
“I had never been under commission before. Getting the chance to write a play for teenage actors, and create a role I would have wanted to play, was an exciting opportunity for me.” At 25, Gelberg finds it easy to remember what he felt as a teen. His goal in writing this play — which he did before the semester began — was to set teens in an environment where he hadn’t seen them before.
Liam Gerard, 18, is going to study musical theater at the University of Hartford in the fall.
“To get a New York credit under my belt before college starts is a really excellent and amazing opportunity that we got from the school. I’m immensely grateful.”
There was a pause, then “I’m all verklempt,” Gelberg said, to a warm laugh. Patrick Napolitano, who plays 13-year-old Kurtz, said “I think this is what a lot of theater is in New York in general. This is a lot more like guerrilla style in a way.”
Gelberg said that when he was a junior at MKA, the drama teacher took students to the Planet Connections Festivity to do a play as well. Growing up in Montclair, exposure to theater can mean just Broadway, he said. “But there are so many other kinds of theater out there. ‘Hey, you can do this too. You don’t have to just be Equity [the actors and stage managers union] to do a show in front of a New York theater crowd.”
While the play is set at summer camp, the company discovered it is not really about camping.
For 16-year-old rising junior Caitlin Ladda, who plays Sarah, a full counselor and a long-time camper who’s keen to see the rules respected, the play “draws on the tension between people being CITs and becoming counselors. When you’re friends with someone it’s like a power struggle a little bit. The show captured that. I’ve seen a lot of kids go through the thing where you’re best friends with someone and the next year they’re your boss.”
Casey Rae Borella, who plays Kiki, also a long-time camper and a counselor, relates to “the way we as teenagers grow up and change. You see these things that you’ve been doing forever with all these different people and you start to grow out of it, and other people aren’t there yet.” The play, Borella said, is about the “way that we all develop and change and figure out what we want at different paces.”